Skip to main content

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- I'm typing this review on the most important laptop to hit the marketin at least 20 years -- perhaps ever: the first commercially available laptop based on Google's (GOOG) - Get Alphabet Inc. Class C Report Chrome OS operating system, which is thereason it's called a Chromebook.

Sundar Pichai, VP of Product Management for Google, talks about notebooks running on Chrome OS at the Google IO Developers Conference in San Francisco, May 11, 2011.

Get used to the name "Chromebook" just like you got used to anything starting with an "i" in 2007, because you will be hearing it a lot. In short, with the oneexception of the fact that you can't run the traditional iTunessoftware on this laptop, it is the ideal laptop for probably at least80% of anyone in the market for a 12.1 inch light/thin laptop.

On Monday,

Steve Jobs talked about a cloud-centric world

that's notdependent on any particular PC, and his changes to iTunes and theintroduction of iCloud take some steps in that direction starting thisFall. The Chromebook, however, is already there.

The time from whenyou're un-boxing the Chromebook until you're fully up and running isapproximately one minute. Compare that with any PC that's typically aweekend project to set up -- and even then you're not really surewhether you have migrated to your new PC properly.

The initial set-up, however, is only the beginning of the unfavorablecomparison to any traditional laptop when compared to the Chromebook.

Remember the very first time you booted up that brand new Mac orWindows laptop? It felt so fast... compared to that oldclunker you just replaced -- 30 seconds, 45 seconds, whatever.

By thetime that first marathon set-up weekend finished, however, and you hadinstalled all of your programs, your boot-up time had at leastdoubled. A few weeks or months into your traditional PC ownership,you're clocking two minutes and running.

Not so with the Chromebook. It was 10 seconds to get it up on thefirst date, and it will remain 10 seconds years thereafter. Google'sand Samsung's tag-line for the Chromebook should be "Viagra built-in"instead of "Intel inside."

The Chromebook is the one and only device that doesn't slow down withthe years. The keyboard may turn gray after a long life of heavy use,but it will accelerate zero-to-typing in 10 seconds well after it hasoutlived Hugh Hefner.

And that's just the software.

From a hardware perspective, think of the

Samsung

Chromebook as aslightly larger plastic

TheStreet Recommends

Apple

(AAPL) - Get Apple Inc. (AAPL) Report

MacBook Air, 11.6-inch laptop. TheSamsung is 12.1 inches and slightly thicker and slightly heavier thanthe smallest MacBook Air, but it's also got a better battery life.The keyboard and trackpad are shamelessly similar.

Aside from the fact that the Samsung Chromebook boots faster, andgenerally feels faster than the MacBook Air despite a much weakerprocessor, you know what else isn't similar? The price. With 3G from

Verizon

included -- and you want that -- the Samsung Chromebook costs$500, or half the MacBook Air's $1,000.

But wait, there is more! Seeing as the Chromebook can't contract anysoftware problem that would require tech support, you don't need tobuy that $250 tech support package from Apple that's $250. Therefore,the fair comparison is $500 for the Samsung Chromebook vs. $1,250 forthe Apple MacBook Air 11.6-inch model. If you buy a

Lenovo

,

Dell

(DELL) - Get Dell Technologies Inc Class C Report

or

HP

(HPQ) - Get HP Inc. (HPQ) Report

, you would also have to add $250 or so for the best three-year warrantyavailable. Not with a Chromebook!

Verizon gives you 100 meg per month for two years included in the $500price for the Chromebook. This is obviously not a lot, but it canserve as a lifeline from time to time, when you are not depending onyour smartphone, MiFi, or other kind of WiFi hotspot for connectivity.

You can buy more data at the same prices Verizon offers for all ofits other mobile data devices, and this is on a pay-as-you-go basis,so no contract of any kind. Add 1 gig, 3 gig, 5 gig, 10 gig, one day, one week or one month any time you want. It's the ideal kind ofpricing plan I would like for all of my smartphones and tablets aswell.

What's the downside of the Samsung Chromebook? For the vast majorityof users, I can only think of one: no iTunes. At least until iTunesgoes completely "cloud" as with Google services, many people will bereluctant to give up their ability to run a full local iTunessoftware. This will limit the sale potential of the Chromebook fornow, but here are three other categories where the Chromebook canquickly come to dominate the PC market:

1.

As second, third, or fourth PC in a household where you only needone (old) PC to run iTunes.

Many people will fit into this category,indeed probably a majority of U.S. households.

2.

In the enterprise.

No iTunes needed here. All you want as a CFOis to reduce your IT expenses by 99%. The Chromebook may not cut 99%of your IT expense, but I'll settle for 90% or even 80%. All theproblems surrounding upgrading PCs, installing software, managingfiles and anti-virus now go out the door. Users can spend their timedoing productive things, instead of managing PCs or waiting for themto reboot. Folks, from an all-in lifecycle IT cost perspective,including time and labor, this isn't a remotely close call, whencompared to a traditional PC.3.

As a gift to a child or elderly relative.

This is the ideal PCfor someone who should not be trusted to properly manage a PC, orwhere you don't have the time to be their personal IT support person.Give this to a child or your parents, and you will never again spendThanksgiving -- and for that matter, an hour every day -- fixing their PCs.

For many people, this will secure peace and harmony in the Americanfamily. Not a bad achievement from a PC operating system we simplycall "cloud."

Early indication of the battery life suggests a life of at leastapproximately nine hours. Especially for such a thin and light laptop,this is either class-leading or close thereto. The Chromebook idlesvery gracefully.

I imagine that Chromebooks will be sold in vending machines, airportsand hotels. You don't need anything except one minute worth of freetime to set one up, so this is the one PC you can actually buy whileon the road rushing from one meeting to the next.

I remember the skepticism surrounding Apple's iPad in the days andweeks following Steve Jobs' January 2010 announcement, before it wenton sale in April 2010. I was not in doubt,

as I wrote in anarticle.

This time around, I see the Chromebook being at least astransformative and impactful to the existing PC business as the iPadcame to be almost immediately after its April 2010 availability. ThePC business is a 400 million per year unit market that's been provenfor close to 30 years. Cromebooks of various shapes and sizes standto take over perhaps as much as 80% of this market over the next fewshort years. In the next three to five years, Google stands to ship -- throughOEMs such as Samsung and probably many others -- up to 300 millionChrome OS units per year, in the traditional PC form factors alone.Add tablets and smartphones starting in the next couple of years,and the volume could be closer to one billion units per year.

With the superior user experience in combination with the dramaticallylower total lifecycle cost of ownership, the Chromebook poses thegravest of danger for a large portion of

Microsoft

's

(MSFT) - Get Microsoft Corporation (MSFT) Report

business. IfDr. Kevorkian were still alive and got to spend even a short timewith the Chromebook, he would be getting into his van, driving toSeattle, while on the phone engaging Chapter 7 bankruptcy lawyers.

Once you have spent any amount of time with the Chromebook, you haveto ask yourself: What on earth will Microsoft have to do in order tostay afloat?

But it doesn't stop with Microsoft. The fundamental Chrome OSarchitecture poses some extremely troubling questions for positivelyevery other computing entity in the market, ranging from Apple to AMDto Intel to HP to RIM and others. All Google now needs to do in orderto achieve world domination is to allocate sufficient resources so asto make Chrome OS the OS of choice also for tablets and smartphones,cannibalizing its own Android OS. Seriously, it's that serious.

At the time of submitting this article, the author was long AAPL, GOOG and RIMM.

This commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet guest contributor program. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of TheStreet or its management.

Anton Wahlman was a sell-side equity research analyst covering the communications technology industries from 1996 to 2008: UBS 1996-2002, Needham & Company 2002-2006, and ThinkEquity 2006-2008.